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Mumbai Mosaic

Using crowdsourced footage, 'India In A Day' tells the story of the subcontinent

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India is home to an estimated 1.3 billion people. 'India In A Day' presents a slice of life on the subcontinent.

Talk about a cast of thousands. The crowdsourced India in a Day, which debuts at this year's Cinequest, presents a massive group portrait of India. The project, which Google hatched with executive producer Ridley Scott and his Scott Free Productions, features cobbled-together footage collected by amateurs with cellphones and handheld cameras. Canadian director Richie Mehta and his editing team cut and wove the footage down to a manageable 86 minutes. Still, the film is sprawling in scope—providing a mosaic view of some of the billion-plus lives in India, and fifteen of the languages spoken on the subcontinent.

Phoned from London where he was travelling, Mehta (Amal, Siddhartha, both of which screened at previous Cinequest film fests), described how he'd been called up by Scott Free. "It sounded like a dream project for me, since I was experienced in South Asian material," Mehta says. "They asked me if it interested me. At least I didn't tell them that I wanted to do it so badly, I'd do it for free."

The footage was all taken during one day—Oct. 10, 2015—from midnight to midnight. "That was pretty much the only rule," Mehta says. "It was a very basic guideline—you discuss evolving India. If you needed more time to explore the topic, we'd try to pass on some inspiration. We'd say, 'try to shoot something that regularly occurs in your day. Tell us about what you love or fear.'"

Submissions came from all parts of India, from the hills to the Nicobar Islands. Only one remote state on the Burmese border didn't submit. Two videographers submitted "giant epics," according to Mehta. One person submitted 15 hours of footage—the story of a farming family. "It could have been a feature documentary," Mehta says. "Another group of filmmakers studied a rickshaw driver: four cameras and six hours of films. At the other extreme, one person sent a film that was 5 seconds long, of a man riding a horse in downtown Kolkata."

Mehta's team, along with his editor, Beverly Mills, delved through all of the material. "The staff rated it every week, and then re-evaluated their rating system," Mehta says. "We wanted to make sure that before disqualifying something for technical reasons—for poor sound or images—that (there wasn't) something worthwhile there, as opposed to content that was technically perfect and didn't say anything. Everything that I wanted to really, really get into this film made it. The farming family I mentioned were very special. It was only after I was through that I realized that the two main characters resemble figures in one of my previous films. They had this working-class ethic and so much dignity."

India in a Day has played at festivals in Toronto and Sheffield and has been launched in Mumbai. It's already available on YouTube in India, and will be uploaded to American YouTube shortly after the festival screening.

Mar 3 at 7pm at the California Theatre; Mar 6, 7:10 at the Century 20 in Redwood City

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